New web development frameworks, a new development server and supporting processes, improved research and development documentation, open source knowledge and software, and less reliance on archaic, custom solutions all contributed to making 2009 a brand new world for the Burning Man Engineering Team.

In the Fall of 2008, we concluded our web frameworks analysis and selection. In the end, we ending up deciding that there are two new frameworks that we are comfortable implementing and supporting. During that evaluation we compared several frameworks in the effort to create a new registration form for our annual Regional Leadership Summit. Ruby on Rails and Django ended up practically tied in our analysis, though certain solutions may be better suited for one or the other, depending on the details of the project. We have since used Django in our projects associated with the Burning Man Earth team. We have also held free trainings in both technologies at Burning Man HQ during the year. In addition to those frameworks, we continue to have Plone and LAMP systems in the mix.

Our Burning Blog has seen a huge leap in traffic over the 2009 year. In early 2009, we partnered with the Communications Department to enable blog contributions from an extended set of authors, writing on a diverse range of topics from our extended community. With the support of our amazing web team volunteers, our plug-ins stay fresh and our software is consistently updated, enabling those enlightening posts to be read by many.

This year marks the second year using logistics software for event deliverable requests. It has been expanded from just DPW logistics requests to handling multiple deliverables across many departments, resulting in greatly reduced time and people hours spent on email and paper-based systems. We will be refining a number of the request forms and implementing a few new ones now that we?ve used this process through a full event cycle.

Our project to create a new Media Gallery has been slow moving due to other pressing priorities and inconsistent availability of remote developer resources. Before the 2009 event, we brought in a new project manager to help keep things moving on this and several other projects. As such, we have recently been able to focus our efforts and have made significant progress and plan to start beta testing during the winter of 2009 and roll out to the public in early 2010.

The intended Extranet upgrade was slowed due to a lack of resources this year and towards the end of 2009, it became evident that we need to migrate to different collaboration software. Despite the challenges, significant results were seen with requirements gathering, which also included an online staff survey. This research has helped us established a clear, prioritized list of requirements that will in turn guide our analysis and selection of a replacement framework that will serve our needs going forward.

The Playa Events Calendar was our second project using the Django and specifically an open source collection of Django applications called Pinax. Working with the Burning Man Earth team, we were able to roll out a custom form, database, and moderation and export capabilities for event submissions under a very tight deadline. This project beautifully illustrated why functional documentation rocks our world, as we had wireframes and an extensive functional specifications waiting in the wings to be implemented. The system effectively served the playa event submissions and subsequent data export for the WhatWhereWhen and many users commented on the clean design, ease of use and straightforward implementation.

Our FileMaker Pro databases for Art, Placement and Media continue to buzz along without significant problems. The People’s Database, our repository for all volunteer information, remains high on our list of replacement engineering projects. As they age, the Questionnaire and Database tools for DMV are experiencing more problems. To address this, we are considering re-launching them in a new framework for 2011.

With expanded monthly project tracking, we’re able to forecast our engineering workload through to the 2012 event and manage pending projects with greater accuracy and efficiency. There are always a lot of unknown variables, but we?re putting more systems in place to be even more productive geeks!

Moving forward, we are again incurring substantial maintenance costs from aging and highly customized systems. Because of this we are rethinking our processes for implementing new systems, and more than ever before we?re finding ourselves interested in open source/out-of-the-box solutions. We have not yet fully implemented LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) across our technologies, as there?s been a need to focus our resources on higher priority issues.

Post event in 2009, the organization began exploring structures and processes that help take an organization-wide look at resources and priorities. This shared input and understanding will help guide our recommendations for ongoing and new engineering projects. We are really excited to be able to focus our time and resources on such much needed system upgrades or replacements and look forward to reporting out on the progress in next year?s report!

Submitted by,
Brian Forsyth, Calliope Gazetas, Heather Gallagher, and Ian Starr